Audi A8 review
The flagship Audi A8 saloon takes the fight to Mercedes S-Class, Range Rover and BMW 7 Series
The Audi A8 has had the Mercedes S-Class in its sights ever since it arrived in 1994. With its lightweight aluminium chassis, the big Audi was pushing technological boundaries from day one. Now in its third generation, it’s firmly established in the luxury saloon class. All versions benefit from the firm’s trademark quattro four-wheel drive system and eight-speed auto gearbox. Go for either the V6 or V8 diesel-engined versions and you’ll be rewarded with muscular performance and surprisingly strong fuel economy. Petrol fans can choose from a turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 or the huge 6.3-litre W12, which is also used in the Bentley Continental and Flying Spur. There's also a novel hybrid variant that combines the VW Golf GTI's 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine with a powerful electric motor to deliver near diesel running costs. At the top of the range is the rapid S8, which uses a slightly detuned version of the brutally powerful twin turbo 4.0-litre V8 found the firm's blisteringly quick RS6.
Our pick: A8 3.0 TDI SE Executive
Luxury products don’t have to be conspicuous, and the Audi A8 has always traded on its understated looks. It's handsome and well proportioned, but takes cues from smaller Audis, so it doesn’t turn heads like the Mercedes S-Class and Range Rover. Inside, you’re welcomed by top-quality materials and a logical dashboard. As you’d expect, there’s plenty of optional equipment on offer, plus a bewildering array of leathers, veneers and inlays to give your A8 an even more opulent feel. Still, with 12-way electrically adjustable leather heated seats, plus sat-nav and four-zone climate control, the cabin feels suitably exclusive even in standard form. It is beautifully built from top quality materials and features a logically laid-out dashboard – the touch pad that allows you to spell sat-nav instructions with your finger is a particularly neat touch.
Also available are the MatrixBeam LED headlamps, which are avialable with a pedestrian detection function. This neat kit uses a thermal imaging cameras to identify passers by in the dark, before strobing them three times with a seperate beam and sounding a warning chime to the driver. On quiet roads they can also track as many as eight cars to keep main beams on at all times while masking out specific areas of light so as not to dazzle other drivers.
Famed for its sharp dynamics and quattro all-wheel-drive composure, the A8 has lots of grip and taut body control. The 3.0-litre diesel also delivers strong performance and refinement.The Audi’s stability at speed is very reassuring and it’s enjoyable to drive on a twisty back road. However, the price you have to pay for the sharp handling is a firm low-speed ride. Tyre noise also takes the edge off refinement compared to the smoother S-Class and cushioned Range Rover. Elsewhere, the standard Drive Select system allows fine-tuning of suspension, throttle and gearshifts, but whatever settings you choose, the A8 never quite manages to balance comfort and handling as well as the new S-Class does.
The 254bhp 3.0-litre TDI sprints from 0-60mph in 6.1 seconds, yet promises claimed economy of 47.9mpg. The Hybrid is front-wheel drive, while all other models get Audi's trademark quattro four-wheel drive, which delivers staggering traction and grip in corners. Drivers wanting the ultimate in luxurious performance should take a close look at the 513bhp 4.0-litre twin turbo S8, which will demolish the 0-62mph sprint in just 4.2 seconds. It also gets the sophisticated Sport Quattro rear differential, which helps boost agility by channelling power to individual rear wheels.
Audi ranked 10th and 23rd respectively in the manufacturer and dealer sections of our Driver Power 2013 survey – behind Mercedes on both counts. The Audi A8 hasn’t been subjected to the tough Euro NCAP crash tests, but there’s no reason to doubt its safety credentials. A strong structure and six airbags are standard, as is the firm’s pre-sense system, which automatically tensions the seat belts and closes the windows if it detects an imminent collision. Further confidence inspiring additions include the standard-fit quattro four-wheel drive system, electronic stability control and tyre pressure monitoring. A revised A8 will arrive in January, with even more safety kit.
As with its rivals, there are raft of optional safety upgrades to choose from, including lane keep assist, adpative crusie control and a night vision camera. Also available are the MatrixBeam LED headlamps, which are avialable with a pedestrian detection function. This neat kit uses a thermal imaging cameras to identify passers by in the dark, before strobing them three times with a seperate beam and sounding a warning chime to the driver. On quiet roads they can also track as many as eight cars to keep main beams on at all times while masking out specific areas of light so as not to dazzle other drivers.
Given its luxury car status it’s no surprise to find the Audi A8 features an extremely spacious interior. Even the short wheelbase model benefits from bags of head and legroom. Go for the stretched long wheelbase option and rear seat passengers get an extra 120mm of space to stretch out in. If you plan on being chaffeured in your A8, then it's well worth considering one of the optional rear seat packages. While these set-ups turn the Audi into a strict four-seater, the individual rear chairs have 12 way electric adjustment, plus you can remotely slide the front passenger seat forward for even more legroom in the rear. Opening the bootlid reveals a well-shaped 510-litre luggage area, although the absence of a folding rear bench limits the A8’s abilities as a versatile holdall. Still the added security of four-wheel drive makes the Audi the one to go for if you plan to use it in snowy or wet weather on a regular basis.
Stop-start and regenerative braking keep fuel bills low, and in spite of the engine’s punchy performance, 40mpg returns at the pump should be possible. The A8 is also cheaper to insure than the Mercedes S-Class, while fixed-price servicing makes it easy to budget for maintenance. But it sits five tax bands higher than the S350, and has poorer residual values. Like any luxury limousine, the initial depreciation will be eye-watering. Buyers looking to slash their company car costs will be attracted to the Hybrid, which emits only 147g/km and attracts even less Benefit in Kind taxation than the diesel.